Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Church Media—At What Cost?

I’ve been reading a book lately called The Dangerous Act of Worship by Mark Labberton. The premise of the book is that if we are actually involved in the worship of God, the outgrowth will be our active participation in social justice and dispensing of mercy. Labberton argues that if we are not doing justice and loving mercy, we are not worshipping, or at least we are not worshipping God. As I’ve read, I’ve been wresting with what this looks like in my life. Am I really doing anything to help the cause of the poor and needy, or am I merely chasing the American Dream, consoling myself that part of my work week is devoted to leading others in “worship?” These are weighty issues.

Then along comes Sarah McLachlan and a new music video she recorded for $15. The song is entitled World on Fire, and speaks to social justice. Her premise is that the typical music video costs $150,000 to make, but what if most of that money could be used to help the needy around the world. You can see the video here, along with a list of donations for the other $149,985.

As I watched the video, I started thinking about churches and how much money we spend on ourselves. Month after month I read the trade rags and see church after church installing PM5Ds and Venues and the occasional XL8 sound consoles. There are $100,000 speaker arrays, and video and projection systems that cost more than my house. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like technology toys as much as anyone, but should a church be spending $65,000 on a sound console? And that’s just for the mid-range. The very first Midas XL8 in the US was installed in a church—at a cost of $250,000! What would happen if instead, they spent $20,000 on a M7CL and gave the other $230,000 away to the poor and needy of the world? A quarter of a million dollars would feed a lot of staving kids orphaned by war or aids in Africa. Seriously.

Now, I’m not saying it’s absolutely wrong to make those big ticket buys, but can we really look God in the eye (figuratively speaking) and say we’re worshiping Him in our multi-million dollar facilities with our hundreds of thousand dollars of AV gear while thousands of people die every day around the world of starvation? I was looking at lenses the other day for an article on IMAG. A single lens for a video camera can cost easily $20,000-50,000. All so we can see the pastor better? I don’t know, is that really worship? If it is, is it of God or ourselves?

Whenever I see a video that asks those outside the church what they think about the church, the word “hypocritical” comes up a lot. As I’ve thought about this topic, I can’t help wondering if those impressions aren’t correct. We say we love God and desire to follow Jesus. Then we spend a ton of cash on stuff that benefits us, while ignoring those around us with real needs.

The other side of this coin is that people in the US have to be reached with the Gospel, too. Because of the culture we live in, we need to invest in a certain level of technology and media to speak to them effectively. But do even those we are trying to reach sense a certain disconnect between the message and what they see when they walk into our technologically advanced churches?

I don’t pretend to have this all figured out. Like I said, these are weighty issues. Is it wrong to spend money on a soundboard? I don’t know. But when those outside the family of faith have a better grasp of social justice than we do, it’s time to start asking the questions.

What say you?

8 Comments

  1. joshjyang@hotmail.com

    Reading your post, I was reminded of Simi Cornerstone church. It’s inspiring to see churches actually live out their convictions. Instead of building a nice indoor sanctuary, they’re going with an outdoor amphitheater to save money for other causes. Of course, they do live in California where the weather will be a little nicer than, say, Chicago. =)

  2. joshjyang@hotmail.com

    Reading your post, I was reminded of Simi Cornerstone church. It’s inspiring to see churches actually live out their convictions. Instead of building a nice indoor sanctuary, they’re going with an outdoor amphitheater to save money for other causes. Of course, they do live in California where the weather will be a little nicer than, say, Chicago. =)

  3. mgray@palmvalley.org

    Very thought-provoking post Mike.

    I have to admit that this sort of complex question really challenges my thinking. I already balk at how much money is spent on “cool stuff” in churches, but the selfish side of me likes the fun of using such great equipment. Sometimes it is difficult to draw the line between what is a tool and what is just cool. Great post!

    And thank you again for taking the time last month to help me with removing ambient noise from my videos. I can’t tell you how impressed I was that someone on the other side of the country would be willing to drive back to work in order to help another church maximize their video quality. That was very gracious.

    Michael

  4. mgray@palmvalley.org

    Very thought-provoking post Mike.

    I have to admit that this sort of complex question really challenges my thinking. I already balk at how much money is spent on “cool stuff” in churches, but the selfish side of me likes the fun of using such great equipment. Sometimes it is difficult to draw the line between what is a tool and what is just cool. Great post!

    And thank you again for taking the time last month to help me with removing ambient noise from my videos. I can’t tell you how impressed I was that someone on the other side of the country would be willing to drive back to work in order to help another church maximize their video quality. That was very gracious.

    Michael

  5. paul@technobabelshow.com

    Social justice is an issue, but not THE MAIN issue. People are the most important thing to God. He’d rather die than live without us, even knowing that most people would reject his gift of salvation.

    If we eliminate social injustice and poverty, but no one knows Jesus, we’ve put a band-aid on the problem, not addressed it’s source. The best way to address social issues is with evangelism as changed hearts break for people.

    If media accomplishes goals of evangelism and loving on people, it’s worth the cost.

    Paul

  6. paul@technobabelshow.com

    Social justice is an issue, but not THE MAIN issue. People are the most important thing to God. He’d rather die than live without us, even knowing that most people would reject his gift of salvation.

    If we eliminate social injustice and poverty, but no one knows Jesus, we’ve put a band-aid on the problem, not addressed it’s source. The best way to address social issues is with evangelism as changed hearts break for people.

    If media accomplishes goals of evangelism and loving on people, it’s worth the cost.

    Paul

  7. rick@rickpepper.com

    Excellent reality check Mike. I can’t play the role of the Holy Spirit in a church’s situation, but church tech folk, and their pastors really need to ask themselves these hard questions. That’s the most I can say, is “amen”, be slow to dismiss yourself from doing this in each of your churches, and long on contemplating the precise “why” factor in each piece of gear you feel you “need.” I often ask myself this; “will it increase the anointing or presence of God in the service?” An interesting video clip from Willow Creek on a parallel subject can be found in this article:

    http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html

  8. rick@rickpepper.com

    Excellent reality check Mike. I can’t play the role of the Holy Spirit in a church’s situation, but church tech folk, and their pastors really need to ask themselves these hard questions. That’s the most I can say, is “amen”, be slow to dismiss yourself from doing this in each of your churches, and long on contemplating the precise “why” factor in each piece of gear you feel you “need.” I often ask myself this; “will it increase the anointing or presence of God in the service?” An interesting video clip from Willow Creek on a parallel subject can be found in this article:

    http://blog.christianitytoday.com/outofur/archives/2007/10/willow_creek_re.html

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